Image: Representative Robin Smith (R-Hixson-District 26 ) Image Credit: capitol.tn.gov
The Tennessee Conservative [By Jason Vaughn] –
A bill to prohibit taxpayer-funded state agencies from lobbying for or against state legislation has been taken off notice for the House Public Service Subcommittee due to a likely defeat of the companion Senate bill in Committee and the fact that the practice the bill aims to address is most likely already in violation of Tennessee Code and the state’s Constitution.
House Bill 1978 (HB1978) was heard by the House Public Service Subcommittee on March 2nd but was taken off notice by the bill’s sponsor, Representative Robin Smith (R-Hixson-District 26 ) following her presentation of the bill.
During her presentation, Representative Smith said, “Relative to the Tennessee Code Annotated, right now, lobbying is defined as that process to communicate directly or indirectly with any official in the legislative branch for the purpose of influencing any legislation, any legislative action or administrative action. We do have in the Tennessee Constitution, article 2 – separation of powers, and that specifically says the powers of the government shall be divided into three distinct departments – legislative, executive and judicial. Section 1, section 2 says that no person or persons belonging to one of these departments shall exercise any of the powers properly belonging to either of the others.”
Smith cited several bills that she has witnessed during her tenure as Representative that have been “actively opposed by departments, by agencies, by liaisons; so much that there has been a coordination of messaging, etc.”
Representative Smith said, “The intent of the original bill was to make sure that the taxpayers of Tennessee don’t have their taxpayer dollars used against them after sending us here to represent their values, to present their virtues and instead have agencies come over and lobby against our bills. So what I’ve decided to do, rather than run the bill, is I’ve submitted a letter to the Attorney General asking for his official opinion, asking if the current law and our Constitution is being upheld.”
In reaching out to Representative Smith for clarity, she provided the Tennessee Conservative with the letter to Attorney General Herbert Slatery which states, in part:
On behalf of the taxpayers and citizens of our great State, please opine on the separation of powers, as enumerated in the Tennessee Constitution Article II,that is materially impacted through the practices of various departments, agencies and entities governed by rules promulgated by the Tennessee General Assembly which, in turn, work in opposition to the voice and votes of the people of Tennessee.
Specifically, applying the definition in TCA 3-6-301 (15)(A) which states, “Lobbying means to communicate, directly or indirectly, with any official in the legislative branch for the purpose of influencing any legislative action or administrative action,” please opine to the aforementioned constitutionally enumerated and protected rights in relation to the current practices of liaisons, department personnel and appointed officials, including but not limited to, Commissioners, Deputy Commissioners, Assistant Commissioners and department and division heads who actively work through communications – spoken and written – to oppose, defeat and influence legislative proposals. Oftentimes, these State employees of the Executive Branch are working in tandem with registered lobbyists sharing talking points, sharing meetings with Members and coordinating efforts.
The letter was signed by Representative Smith, along with Representatives Scott Cepicky, Chris Todd, Dan Howell, John Ragan, Esther Helton, Tim Rudd and Bud Hulsey.
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Representative Smith told the Tennessee Conservative that, “After working on HB1078, which was opposed by the Governor’s Administration, the public universities and various agencies, the vote count on the subcommittee was looking perilous.”
Smith also indicated that Senator Mark Pody (R-Lebanon-District 17), sponsor of the Senate version of the bill (SB2275), had expressed the bill would face a likely defeat in the Senate State and Local Government Committee.
Smith acknowledged the letter to the Attorney General as “a way to inquire as to the constitutionality of the actions for the purpose of defeating legislation in light of the separation of powers in the TN Constitution.”
“The letter to the AG should inform the public and the General Assembly,” Smith said, “I remain of the belief that some actions of the Executive Branch, its departments, agencies and divisions, are actively lobbying to defeat legislation. This is not a unique practice, but, rather, a standard response of the years.”
“Taxpayers need to be aware that their tax dollars are being used to pay for activity that is defined as lobbying in Tennessee Law. This lobbying is being done by individuals of the Executive Branch, it’s divisions, departments and bureaus with the purpose of defeating legislation proposed by the Legislative Branch, elected to speak for the taxpayers,” Smith concluded.
Representative Smith has indicated she will share the AG’s opinion when it is received and will also share any updates as they become available.
The Tennessee Conservative has also reached out to Senator Pody for comment but has not heard back at the time of publication.
We will keep you informed as any new information surfaces.
About the Author: Jason Vaughn, Media Coordinator for The Tennessee Conservative ~ Jason previously worked for a legacy publishing company based in Crossville, TN in a variety of roles through his career. Most recently, he served as Deputy Director for their flagship publication. Prior, he was a freelance journalist writing articles that appeared in the Herald Citizen, the Crossville Chronicle and The Oracle among others. He graduated from Tennessee Technological University with a Bachelor’s in English-Journalism, with minors in Broadcast Journalism and History. Contact Jason at news@TennesseeConservativeNews.com